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How often should I change the oil if I drive less than 5,000 kilometres a year?

Two readers have a similar question: Miguel R. drives a Nissan Versa and Lew W., a Toyota Solara. Their vehicles are driven less than 5,000 kilometres a year. Both drivers are receiving conflicting information regarding their oil-change intervals. What is the correct oil change interval for limited-use vehicles?

I've contacted several oil suppliers and they all issue the same general statements, namely to refer to the specific manufacturers' guidelines. While your vehicle is under warranty, I would suggest complying with the dealer-recommended intervals so as to not complicate any possible warranty claims. After that, here are the guidelines I recommend given that the typical three-month interval does not apply to these cars. There is no single correct answer, so we must consider the driving and climate conditions that exist for each individual owner to tailor a custom schedule.

Extensive idling during short-distance stop-and-go trips in wet, cold climates will limit the oil-change interval. These vehicles will have higher-than-average amounts of unburnt fuel and condensed water residing in the oil pan, leading to contamination. Ideally, change your oil and filter twice a year regardless of kilometres.

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If you use your vehicle infrequently but manage moderate-length drives, this will allow the vehicle to get to its full operating temperature, clearing out most contaminants. A single oil change each year using a quality synthetic oil and filter is possible for these drivers.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing "Lou's Garage" in the subject area.

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